Lawmakers Take on Super PACs on Smith Hill
Friday, February 17, 2012
Governor Chafee said Thursday he has introduced a bill that would require full disclosure of previously unregulated political expenditures, a move he said will continue his quest to tackle corruption in state politics.
The “Transparency in Political Spending Act (TIPS),” will require individuals and organizations that engage in “independent expenditures” and “electioneering communications” to report donors and expenditures to the Rhode Island State Board of Elections and to include disclaimers on media and internet advertising.
An “independent expenditure” is an expenditure that expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and is not coordinated with any candidate’s campaign, authorized candidate committee or political party committee. “
Electioneering communications” are print, broadcast, cable, satellite, or electronic media communications not coordinated with any candidate, authorized candidate committee or political party committee which unambiguously identifies a candidate and is made within 60 days of a general or special election or within 30 days of a primary and can be received by 5,000 or more persons in the constituency.
“Since the Citizens United decision, we have seen the rise and increased influence of so-called ‘Super PACs’ and other powerful outside organizations and individuals,” Governor Chafee said. “These special interests are currently permitted to play a significant role in the political process with little-to-no transparency or oversight. The Transparency in Political Spending Act seeks to change that by making those individuals and organizations trying to influence the outcome of an election accountable to the people of Rhode Island.”
The bill is sponsored in the House by first-term Rep. Chris Blazejewski and in the Senate by Juan Pichardo. Both House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed said they support the legislation. Along with Governor Chafee, the legislators worked with Common Cause executive director John Marion to develop the legislation.
“This legislation is at the heart of the Common Cause mission of open, accountable and ethical government,” Marion said. “We believe the citizens of Rhode Island should know who is trying to influence their votes.”
Blazejewski said there is concern that money coming from outside the state or the country could play a role in local elections that full disclosure is important.
“This legislation is aimed at disclosing who is trying to exert influence over campaigns. In a small state like Rhode Island, the funding available to a super PAC could threaten to undermine our elections with unknown, undisclosed, and potentially limitless political spending. This act is about letting the public know who is behind the message, so Rhode Islanders can make informed judgments about what they’re being told,” said Blazejewski.
Pichardo said, “Transparency is very important in all of government, and especially the election process. Our constituents deserve to know who is making the contributions that fund campaigns designed to influence them at the ballot box, and I am proud to sponsor this legislation which provides this accountability in the campaign process.”
Leadership on Board
House Speaker Gordon Fox said that while he doesn’t support another Common Cause-backed bill that would end fundraising during the legislative session, he is in favor of the TIPS Act.
“Disclosure of campaign donors and spending – regardless of whether it’s by a candidate directly or by some group that is trying to influence elections – is vital information that the public deserves,” he said. “If organizations are going to be allowed to come in and spend limitless amounts on getting the person they want elected, at a minimum the people of our state have the right to know where that money is coming from.”
The Senate President agreed with Speaker Fox.
“Voters have a right to know who is paying to deliver the messages attempting to influence their decisions at that ballot box. Campaign finance disclosure is absolutely vital to the health of our representative democracy, she said.”
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